By Francis LaBelle
The trip was already a difficult one because of its mission.
Days before, Julia Adams, then 14 years old, decided to part with her beloved horse, Lord Anson.
That was tough enough. Now, Julia and her mother were coming to the end of their three-and-a-half-hour drive from Vermont to Wallkill, NY to deliver “Anson” to his temporary residence at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Farm at the Wallkill State Correctional Facility.
Knowing that they were doing right by the nine-year-old Thoroughbred was little comfort.
And it sure wasn’t getting any easier.
“That trip down to Wallkill was horrible,” Julia remembers. “It was silent and sad. My mother had explained to me that we were taking him to a correctional facility, and we didn’t really know what to expect. My Mom also told me that he would be in quarantine, but I didn’t completely understand what that meant.
“I had brought a sheet for Anson because I didn’t want him to be cold, but when we got to the prison, they told me he was going into quarantine and couldn’t wear it; it had to be saved for him. I couldn’t even leave his hay bag. I said good-bye to him at the fence and then walked away,” says Julia.
“It hurt so bad that I started crying hysterically. All of a sudden, this big man in an orange jumpsuit—one of the Second Chances inmates—came over to me, he crouched down and said, ‘Don’t worry, Missy. I’ll take good care of your horse.’
That was in 2002, and Julia still has to pause to collect herself when re-telling the tale after all of these years.
She had wanted a Thoroughbred since she was 12 after she had outgrown her childhood pony. A veterinarian had suggested that she check out the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) because he had adopted former racehorses himself and believed in the organization.
“I had my heart set on adopting an off-track Thoroughbred,” Julia says. “My mother and I drove to an old barn near Randolph, VT and I met Lord Anson. He had raced 61 times before he was retired. I loved him right away.
“He had raced most of his life, but when I first saw him, it was freezing cold, and he was in this old cow barn. There was an indoor arena and we did some flat work. He acted like he did it all of his life. Plus, he was just a love bug. I rode him, worked him in a round pen and spent the day with him. He was so sweet and I fell in love with him.”
Julia and her mother, Sherrie Billings, had invested time, care, and love in Lord Anson. He had earned nearly $76,000 as a racehorse, but those dollars were hard-earned at the cost of a bowed tendon and worn-down joints. It was his last trainer, Louis Linder, who had retired him to the TRF.
Although Anson was in good hands with Julia and her mother, he was also a project horse. He had trouble holding his weight and, according to Julia, “he was one of the worst loading horses ever.”
Julia worked with him and they moved forward together, showing in flat shows, as a pleasure horse, and as a training horse at a local 4-H camp.
For two years, they bonded. Anson’s gentle disposition made him easy to love and each day offered more proof that he was exactly what Julia had wanted.
Then, she got the news that she didn’t want.
“We were doing lessons one day and he just acted wrong,” Julia says. “He turned to look out the door and his leg sort of locked up. He started screaming. We wrapped him and soaked his leg in the river. We x-rayed and ultra-sounded him, and the vet said that he had no cartilage left in his knee joint. I was told that his joints and old injuries just could not sustain work any longer and that he needed to be completely retired. Hearing that news was beyond devastating.”
To their credit, Julia and her mother were not about to let Anson go without a secure future.
“My mom and I found a branch of the TRF in South Carolina that would give him a home with other retired racehorses in a big, grassy open facility,” Julia said. “We wanted to get him out of the cold and into a warmer climate. It broke my heart to make the decision, but I wanted to send him south to live out his days in peace and warmth. I hated knowing that when we drove him to Wallkill for quarantine that I might never see him again, but it was the right thing to do.”
The TRF, the world’s oldest and largest Thoroughbred rescue and re-homing organization, has helped thousands of horses during its 36-year history. Many of these are part of TRF’s internationally recognized Second Chances program, where inmates at state prisons work with horses to learn a vocation in equine care and stable maintenance. Second Chances began at Wallkill and is now offered in seven states.
After quarantine at TRF’s Wallkill farm, Anson got to head down to the warmer climate Julia had hoped for. The Steven Lowder Farm in Bishopsville, SC is a longtime Sanctuary Farm for the TRF. It is owned and operated by Steve and Darla Lowder. In 1983— the same year that the TRF came into existence—the Lowders raised hay for their stocker cattle and for local customers on their 500 acres. Fifteen years later, in 1998, they began to board horses.
According to Darla, they currently have 600 acres for growing hay and 300 acres of horse pastures.
Anson had found a huge facility and experienced owners, not to mention a lot of other horses to keep him company.
“We started taking in TRF horses in 2002,” says Darla, whose farm is located about 25 minutes from the TRF’s Second Chances Program in Wateree, SC. “We had put an ad in a Florida newspaper, and the TRF responded. At one point, we took in 10 horses at a time and we have had as many as 116 TRF horses here. We still have some TRF horses from that very first group.”
Although Anson was not one of the first TRF horses at Lowders’ farm, at 24 he is now one of the oldest. He has been at the farm since October 2004.
“He started out with a larger herd, but he seems to do better when he is with fewer horses,” Darla says. “He stays with about five others, and he is a very sweet horse.”
While Anson has enjoyed the good life in his well-deserved retirement he was always in Julia’s thoughts.
“My mother would check in on him from time to time,” Julia says. “I was always afraid to ask about him because he was getting older and I was afraid there might be bad news.
“Last fall , I saw that Darla was on Facebook and that she had posted a video of her horses at the facility playing in their creek water. I saw a big red gelding with a blaze in the video and knew it was Anson. I was so excited and happy to see him playing in the water.”
Julia, now 29, is married. She is a high school social studies teacher in Vermont. “Darla has been so kind to answer my questions, send me pictures, and keep me up to date on Anson,” Julia says. “Recently, I asked her to send me a portion of Anson’s tail hair so that I might have one piece of him for myself again. “I made it into a bracelet and it means the world to me. I am so very thankful to have a part of my boy back again.”